Cruising has fast become a favourite holiday among South Africans – every year more and more take advantage of cruise ships visiting the African coast. There are various itineraries to choose from, from short trips to Mozambique island to longer trips to the Indian ocean islands.
For many South African travelers, a cruise is their first international holiday and it’s easy to see why. They are affordable, family friendly and all-inclusive, making it an easy option.
To be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a cruise traveler. I’d always thought that cruises were for families and retirees. Organised holidays are generally not my thing. I couldn’t imagine myself taking part in planned activities or just lazing by the pool all day. My pre-conceptions were changed when I was invited to go on a themed cruise with South African radio station Kaya FM. Kaya FM’s tagline is ‘The Home of the Afropolitan’, which immediately caught my attention. Surely this was a cruise designed with the African traveler in mind.
A soul and jazz themed cruise with Kaya FM
Take best music, add top Kaya FM DJs, and put them on one big boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean and you have one dope party.
Ok, so the MSC Opera is more than a boat. It’s a massive cruise liner that can take up to 1712 passengers and is home to over 700 crew. It spends our spring and summer cruising along the Southern African coastline to exotic African destinations such as Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion and Namibia.
When Kaya FM invited me to their Soul & Jazz Cruise in December 2013, I was more than excited. This was the second year that the radio station was hosting a themed cruise, and it was sold out months ahead.
When I was 13 my grandparents took my brothers and i on a cruise from Durban. I had fond memories of playing Bingo, swimming all day, Latin dance classes and mountains of food and not so fond memories of my little brother getting seasick. A highlight for 13 year old me was our handsome young Italian waiter, who had a huge crush on me and even told my grandad he wanted to marry me!! First marriage proposals aside, I just never imagined a cruise was something that I would do as an adult.
The Kaya Cruise changed all my misconceptions about cruises. The best thing about being on a party cruise is that everyone is in the mood for a party! And the crew sure know how to throw a rocking party. It was three nights of fantastic South African music, fun people and all around good vibes.
10 reasons why you should go on a party cruise
- Music Music Music
From Afro-pop to jazz, house and old school beats – there was something for everyone. Props to Kaya FM for choosing such a diverse and entertaining line-up. It was almost like a mini-festival with Mafikizolo, Zakes Bantwini, Jimmy DluDlu and Black Motion heading the programme and supported by the awesome Kaya FM DJs, all in an intimate setting. A recipe for a bash of epic proportions.
The MSC Opera’s regal amphitheatre was the perfect setting for a jazz performance. No matter how many times I see Jimmy Dludlu play live, he never ceases to impress. By the end of his set fans were dancing on stage, and refused to let him leave.
Black Motion were a revelation to me – a fine mix of house beats and mesmerising percussion, I could watch them play for hours on end. These guys know how to entertain a crowd and get them dancing. Their live drumming and DJing were too awesome – definitely an act you have to experience live to truly appreciate.
- Dance, dance, dance…. dance some more
The epic music line-up lead to lots of dancing – dancing on deck, dancing in the pool, dancing on stage, dancing in the rain. The Kaya cruisers were not going to let anything stop them from having a good party.
Our my first night I chose to party on the deck with Afro-pop legends, Mafikizolo who played a great mix of their old hits – as well as their more recent house beats as the crowed danced and sang along. Towards the end of the night the rain started coming down, but that didn’t stop people dancing on the open deck. We danced in the warm rain as the ship bobbed about the ocean. Epic.
- Super fun people
The people maketh the cruise. If you go on a themed cruise, make sure you pick the right one. The great thing about the Kaya FM Soul and Jazz Cruise was that the people who were on it were just like me – music loving, soul loving Afropolitans who love a good party. No teeny-boppers either, most of the crowd was more mature, had worked heard all year, and were ready for a holiday.
I made friends with the coolest peeps, from TV celebrities to journos and young professionals. The crowd was diverse and I had many an interesting late night conversation. There were also lots of families on board. This is a party cruise you can bring your parents on – I know my Dad would have loved it!
Besides the Kaya FM programme, there was a variety of on-board entertainment to keep adults and kids entertained. From poolside bingo, to movies, dance classes and karaoke, there was a fresh entertainment programme daily. I was impressed by the range and scope of entertainment of offer. With a casino, duty free shops and choice of 7 bars and lounges guests on the MSC Opera were spoilt for choice. I didn’t even manage to see the half of it – apparently there was also a gym, library and mini-golf!
- Chill time
In between the dancing and music, I spent downtime in my lovely cabin, which was not as small as I expected. The rocking of the boat lulled me to sleep, and there was even a tv and a mini-bar (dangerous!). If you ever are on a cruise ship, its worth it spending a little extra for a balcony cabin. Looking out onto the mass of blue ocean was calming, my partner and I had fun trying to spot whales from our balcony. We eventually spotted one too.
After a hectic two nights of partying I decided that I was in need of a little self-indulgence. Off to the spa it was for a relaxing Balinese massage. My masseuse was from Bali, so it was the real deal – an authentic Balinese massage off the African coast, with views over the open ocean. I was soon fast asleep on the massage bed! After a rejuvenating post-massage nap, I was ready to hit the deck again for the last party night!
- A Feast of Food
Oh my god the food! There was just much of it, you had to pace yourself. The all-inclusive nature of cruise packages means that there is a high probability of over indulgence. Huge breakfasts, massive buffet or a la carte lunches and 3 course formal a la carte dinners with a choice of options. Considering the ship’s kitchens cater for such a mass of people, the food was really good.
Since the ship is Italian owned, there was definitely an Italian bias to the menu, not that I minded – I love fresh Italian bread and a good pasta. I was particularly impressed that they had a curry option on the dinner menu every night and delicious curries they were – well spiced and served with yummy Indian breads! For the party people there was even a pizza bar and burger bar on the pool deck that was open until 2am.
On regular cruises, I suspect the music is kind of boring – popular music for the kids and some golden oldies for the parents. On a music cruise however, the music is the highlight. Big respect for the Kaya FM DJs who kept the music going on deck most of the day and till the early hours of the morning. From old school soul beats to classic Afro pop, the Kaya DJs were on a roll. I love that I knew most of the music they played and it was all very danceable.
And then there were the laughs… Besides the music, the entertainment programme included comedy by young up and coming comic Skhumba. Though I must admit, his style of comedy wasn’t really my cup of tea, he certainly seemed to have the rest of the crowd in stitches.
From the waiters and bar-staff, to our cleaning lady and the good looking officers the service on board the MSC Opera was unparalleled. It must be difficult to keep enthusiastic and energetic when you have a long season of work, and your home is a ship. Our Italian head waiter, Marcello made us laugh every night – he really seemed straight out of Fawlty Towers!
The staff on board the cruise, might as well have been a mini United Nations. I chatted with officers from Italy, waiters from South Africa, barmen from India, cleaners from the Philippines and housekeepers from Indonesia. Not only were they all super friendly, they were all willing to chat to you and tell you their story. It also doesn’t hurt that a lot of the staff are easy on the eye…
My only gripe about the cruise is that we didn’t get to do the day trip to Portuguese Island due to the weather conditions. Of course, this was no fault of the organisers, but it would have been great to get out the boat and spend the day at the beach.
Now I know why these themed cruises have become so legendary. They cater to the tastes of the African traveller. In the case of the Soul and Jazz Cruise, it was all about good music, good people and good times.
In fact, I had so much fun on the Soul and Jazz cruise, that I joined them again this past December and it was just as epic. Rocking the boat has never been this much fun!
Meruschka is a freelance travel writer and self-proclaimed African travel activist on a mission to visit all the major festivals in Africa. When she is not traveling you can find her in Joburg coffee shops working on her blog and tweeting about African travel. Follow her adventures at: www.mzansigirl.com